Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Ride

It was still dark when he woke up.  The stars were shimmering and there was only the very bare outline of the sky becoming lighter in the east.  It was, as the ancient sages declared, the time for meditation.

He got up from his bed, half alert and with a chaotic grogginess.  The house was quiet, except for the hum of the fan and the occasional sound of a car cruising on the nearby highway.  He switched on a light in his bathroom and slightly squinting, looked at himself in the mirror: his ashen face, his disheveled hair and the two day old stubble on his jaw.  As he turned on the faucet in the basin, the sound of water filled his ears.  Soon the water was warm, and he splashed his face and his eyes.  As he brushed his teeth, the invigorating fragrance of mint and cloves filled his nostrils.

The sun was still a few hours away from the horizon.  He came out of his nightclothes and put on a cold gray t-shirt, his black jeans, and the waterproof wrist watch.  The distance to the outside of his house was only twenty feet, but it was a journey not unlike that of a monk preparing to go inside his pagoda and to sink deep into timelessness.  He put on his cushioning socks, his ankle-high boots, and put on his rather heavy leather jacket.  In the left jacket pocket went his garage remote, and in the right pocket he carefully put in his wallet.  The jacket was almost too heavy, but his heart was slowly unburdening itself.  He inserted the foamy green plugs into his ears to protect them from the noise of the wind-stream and took in his left hand the helmet and his gloves  from the wooden table next to his door.

As he stepped outside and locked his door, he was a man composed.  The fragrance of the trees hit his nostrils, and the cool air stung his still moist face.  The hair on his arms stood up, and he instinctively closed his right palm as if to prepare for a vague battle.

Steadily, and with a silent poise, he descended delicately.  Everybody else must have been still asleep and he was careful to muffle the clank of his boots on the concrete stairs.  The parked cars were wet after a night of rain. In what seemed to be an automatic movement, he transferred the helmet to his right hand, took out the garage remote and pressed the button.  The garage door motor whirred into life, the garage light switched itself on, and there was his motorcycle on its side stand, inclined toward the left.

He circled the motorcycle once, as if examining his horse.  The tires were rounded in their fullness, there was not a speck of dust on the windshield, the chrome was brilliantly reflective.  With a deft and practiced movement, he unlocked the handle-bar and turned the key to ignition.  The battery in the intestines of the motorcycle awoke from its slumber and tiny LED lights glimmered on the instrument panel.

He put on his helmet.  It felt warm and snug.  The gloves were now on as well.  The inside of the gloves felt rough and cold and he rubbed his hands together to generate some much-needed warmth.  He got on his motorcycle from the left and slowly and silently wheeled it out of the garage.  He turned the bike to face away from the garage door and pressed on the remote one last time.  The garage door closed, as if signaling to himself that the only way now open to him was the open road.

He took a quick breath.  He looked down on his lifeless speedometer, and after what seemed like an inordinately long time, turned off the engine kill switch.  It was time.  The meditation was about to begin.

The needle gracefully swept the speedometer dial toward the extreme right, to 160 mph, and then back to zero.

His hands gripped the handle bars, and with his left fingers pulling on the clutch lever, his right thumb resolutely pressed the engine starter.  The motorcycle's 800cc V-twin rumbled to life.  It was the roar of a wild animal roused from its sleep by a sudden jerk.  The engine's sound was a steady thump.  The vibration made him sit up straight and stretch his back.  The monk would have closed his eyes after sitting on his cushion, but the rider's eyes were now intently focused ahead of him.

The motorcycle started to move.  It was still waking up and in the first gear, and it glided smoothly while overcoming the numerous bumps.  As he exited the private street and turned toward the empty county road, his trance was deepening.  The sound and the vibration of the motorcycle was entering his muscles.  First gear quickly gave way to neutral, the green light briefly flickering, and then it was on to the second gear, and then the third.  As he approached the red traffic light, he slowed down.  He was barely able to control his motorcycle which was almost sulking at being forced to stop.  The traffic signal magnets in the road surface didn't detect his ethereal presence, and the traffic light remained a glaring red.

He looked around.  There was not a soul in sight.  The motorcycled roared again and he acceded to its unreasonable demand.  The red lights stared angrily at him in his peripheral vision, but after the turn, his mirrors showed the orthogonal green lights, as if grudgingly confirming his rash decision.  He felt slightly amused.  But the monk knew that the first few minutes of meditation are the hardest, with strange thoughts and memories of unfinished dreams still flashing across the mindscape.

The sign ahead said: "Freeway Entrance.  Pedestrians, Bicycles, Motor-driven cycles prohibited."  He had once wondered at the distinction between a motorcycle and a motor-driven cycle, but now it didn't even cause a whiff of anxiety.  The sign was a warning to other wanderers who were just starting to venture into the unknown, not to him.  He belonged there.  Just as the monk felt at home on his cushion, so was the rider at peace with the empty, high-speed highway that lay ahead.

The wind was now strong on his face.  He brought down the helmet visor with his left hand.  His face was now shielded from the elements and from the occasional projectile.  He was going at fifty miles per hour, now in the fourth gear.  As the motorcycle leaned on the on-ramp, he smoothly accelerated.  He could feel his MSF training in his bloodstream.  The bike leaned to its limit but he leaned it still more.  The right foot-peg scraped against the hard pavement and golden sparks flew in the darkness.  These were the screeching fireworks, welcoming him home.

The motorcycle was giddily accelerating now.  50 miles per hour, 60, 70 and now 80 miles per hour.  It was finally in top gear.  There were no more gears to be changed.  The vibrations were smooth and stable, his hands were lightly resting on the handlebar, and his feet firmly on the pegs.  His jacket was tightly wrapped around his torso, and only his neck and a small part of his wrists were feeling the cool morning air.

His body was relaxed but straight.  His vision was acutely aware of the wide empty highway that stretched ahead for miles.  His mind was now quite alert.  His legs were tightly hugging the sides of the motorcycle and the hem of his jeans was fluttering in the wind.  There wasn't any traffic, not at that unearthly hour.  The roar of the V-twin and the intense whoosh of the wind were anything but silent, but the silence inside of him was deepening.

To ride, he had to be wholly mindful.  He had to mind the surface of the road, he had to frequently check his rear view mirrors, he had to look far ahead for any potential dangers, he had to intently listen to the engine's roar, and watch his speed.  All without moving his head.  Only his eyes could move.  His body had to keep the 600 pounds of metal under him in balance.

The road was smooth, but for an occasional crack in the pavement.  The motorcycle weaved slightly when it went over this occasional crack, only to regain its graceful movement again.

As he glanced down at the fuel gauge, he faintly smiled.  He could go on for another one hundred and fifty miles before needing to stop.

His mindfulness was now reaching its peak.  He was now fused with the machine.  The thump in his heart, the rhythm of his lungs, the movement of the pistons, the shuddering of the speed needle, the steady grip of his wrists, and the boom of the exhaust were all part of one organism now.

He felt like he had come a long way, but the road ahead was endless.  There was no GPS, no map and no destination.  The sun was now up in the east.  The wind thundered around his face and swirled around his body and around his motorcycle.  His arms had lost their stiffness and were fluid and the hot air from near the engine was warming his legs.  There were no more thoughts.  The silence within him was complete.

The wind was him, the smells and the fumes were him, the road was him, the buildings and the trees and the valleys and the hills and the lakes were him.

He was no more, and he was everywhere.

No comments: